Gunn visits northeast Mississippi, hints at run for governor

NEMiss.News Philip Gunn at New Albany Rotary


Philip Gunn, the 61st Speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives, has been busy making friends in northeast Mississippi during recent days.

Gunn has been Speaker of the Mississippi House since 2012, the first Republican to hold that job since1876, during the Reconstruction era.

Philip Gunn is a strapping six feet and three or four inches tall, fit-looking, with a full head of close-cropped iron gray hair at age 58. He attended Baylor University, where he was a walk-on for the Baylor Bears football team.

After graduating from Baylor, Gunn worked for a year as a waiter. He then enrolled in law school at Ole Miss and served as president of the student government while earning his law degree.

Gunn is a Baptist deacon, the husband of one wife, whom he met while enrolled at Baylor. They have four children. Gunn said Friday in New Albany that he and his wife Lisa are “empty nesters,” their youngest child having enrolled in college this fall.

NEMiss.News MS Speaker of the House, Philip Gunn

Speaker Gunn in New Albany

He spoke Friday afternoon to about 30 members of the New Albany Rotary Club.
He covered a number of topics including:

–Medical marijuana. House and Senate leaders have worked together to develop a medical marijuana bill, a response to the flawed Proposition 65 marijuana initiative approved by 75% of Mississippi voters in a last year’s election. The state supreme court overturned the Prop 65 vote on technical grounds. Gunn said Governor Tate Reeves had said he would call a special session of the legislature to approve a medical marijuana bill if the House and Senate could agree. However, Reeves has nit-picked the bill, and Gunn said he did not now know whether Reeves would call a special session to consider it. Gunn said that, if Reeves fails to call a special session, the legislature will pass the bill in its regular session starting in January 2022.

— Death Benefit for public safety workers. The federal government pays a death benefit of $100,000 to the families of law enforcement officers and firemen killed in the line of duty. The state of Mississippi pays an additional $100,000 to such families. The federal government amended its law to include public safety works who died from COVID-19. Gunn said he wants Mississippi to amend its law to pay the state’s additional $100,000 to the families of law enforcement officers and fire fighters who have died from COVID. He said 34 Mississippi public safety workers have died of the coronavirus.

–Gunn talked about the House proposal to completely eliminate the state income tax over time and to replace the revenue with a 2.5% increase in the state sales tax. He argues that the state income tax makes it hard for Mississippi to compete with neighboring states when it comes to recruiting new industry and retaining college graduates to remain and work in Mississippi. He pointed out that Mississippi lost population in the 2020 census as did other states with income taxes and said that states, like Tennessee, Florida and Texas, that do not have income taxes, gained population in the recent census.

During the question and answer period at the Rotary Club, Gunn was asked, “When you get elected governor are you going to straighten all of this out?”

“We’re going to try,” he said. He then said, “Right now I’m speaker and trying to do the best I can of that.”

Gunn is widely expected to run for the Republican nomination for governor in 2023 and would face incumbent Tate Reeves, if Reeves seeks a second term.

As speaker, Gunn and his House members have out maneuvered Reeves in several instances, including changing the state flag.

Gunn was an early proponent of changing the state flag from the old “Stars and Bars” design, which he and many others believed harmed the state’s image and ability to compete for new industry. The legislature successfully changed the flag design last year. Reeves was slow to embrace the change and only did so when he really had no choice but to sign the bill.

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